Yesterday we put together a list of wishes for the budget from the point of view of the IT community. There was a reasonable amount in the event, but not all of it in the areas we suggested.
Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond made some provision for areas that needed it. A promise of reduction in administrative burden for research and development was welcome but could do with fleshing out. Further funding for STEM subjects had already been announced and there will be a further £500m for driverless vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence. Investment in 5G networks and higher-speed broadband universally were on the agenda.
That was the positive stuff. Negatives had also been in the press. Concerns already noted by New Statesman Tech over the timing of digital tax scheme were addressed at least slightly, although only by delaying the scheme for one year for businesses with turnover below the VAT threshold.
Service company status
This is not going to be helped by the substantial changes in the structures to suppliers in the IT sector overall. Many self-employed people and small companies will be reeling over the changes to their taxation; National Insurance Contributions will be increased in line with employees, but significantly tax allowances on dividends falls from a tax-free £5000 to a tax-free £2000 next April (personal allowance increases).
If you use a lot of small contractors, expect a lot of fiddly changes to the red tape while they reassess whether they are better off as self-employed or limited companies.
One thing we called for in our article yesterday was better training for an incoming and existing workforce. Here the announcement of the “T” level to accompany “A” levels and ensure some sort of unified, respected set of qualifications to replace the 13,000 or so out there already is excellent in principle as long as it’s picked up; you have to ask, though, how often we’ve heard that technical qualifications will be as respected as their academic counterparts. It’s been achieved in mainland Europe but we don’t seem to have perfected it in the UK just yet.
This will be accompanies by consideration of how to improve high quality learning across a working life, now assumed to last around 50 years. This is, again, something that’s been said before. Resources are welcome but the test will be in the implementation. The skills gap is real. Whether this addresses it is another thing; by offering “T” level students the same loan funding as other undergraduates the government is at least signalling that it’s serious in its intent.
From the technologist’s point of view it was in many ways a standard budget. Fine words, familiar promises…maybe this time it’ll actually make a difference.